Saturday, April 01, 2017

On DC/Hanna-Barbera's team-ups

Adam Strange/Future Quest#1 by writers Marc Andreyko and Jeff Parker, artist Steve Lieber and colorist Veronica Gandini

Here we have a relatively minor DC Comics character without his own title teaming up with one of the Hanna-Barbereboot titles (albeit one that's being canceled). It should go without saying that jet-pack-wearing, ray gun-shooting spaceman adventurer character Adam Strange is right at home with the 1960s-borne adventure cartoon characters that fill the pages of Jeff Parker and company's title starring various Hanna-Barbera adventure/superhero heroes. Created in 1958, he was spawned from the same cultural forces and pop cultural interests that inspired so many of those cartoon characters, and, if anything, one wonders if he isn't maybe too perfect for an appearance in the Future Quest milieu. There's no friction here in the way that there is, with, say, Suicide Squad/The Banana Splits or the Batman/Top Cat back-up feature that follows (which we'll get to later).

Additionally, because of the premise of Future Quest, in which mysterious portals to other times and places open on Earth, depositing a wide variety of super-characters ranging from Mightor to Space Ghost onto Team Quest and Birdman's Earth, Future Quest has a built-in excuse for any DC Comics character, no matter who or from where, to appear: Jonah Hex, Enemy Ace, The Haunted Tank, The Justice Society of America, Infinity Inc, Metamorpho, Aztek, The Legion of Superheroes, whoever.

So Andreyko and Parker have Adam Strange--the in-continuity, New 52 iteration, based on flashbacks that appear to reference his current origins and events from the recent Death of Hawkman miniseries--pop out of a portal in The Lost Valley, where Dino Boy and some agents of F.E.A.R. have been trapped by the events of Future Quest. Dr. Quest, Race Bannon, Jonny, Hadji and Bandit race there to see what came through, as do the F.E.A.R. folks, who are trying to escape the dangerous, screwed-up valley. The amnesiac Strange got bumped there in mid-zeta beam, and it takes him a while to get his bearings.

Meanwhile, there are lots of cool prehistoric creatures to run from, fight with and, in one case, befriend via snake-charming and rather generous feeding. While it's mainly a Strange/Quest crossover, Birdman appears for a few panels and Mightor and The Herculoids make cameos.

If you like Future Quest, you should like this kinda sorta epilogue to the series, and if you come for the Adam Strange, well, it's a nice introduction to some of the more likable aspects of Future Quest, the first chunk of which is currently available in trade paperback.

The back-up is an eight-page Top Cat comic which is problematically written by DC Comics Publisher Dan DiDio. Did he assign it to himself? Did someone assign it to their own boss, or their boss' boss? It's always bizarre to see DiDio get a writing credit, in a way that seeing his co-publisher Jim Lee's art appearing in a DC comic isn't, because while Lee is a proven popular commodity whose work tends to dramatically affect sales, DiDio is pretty much the opposite. The majority of his work has appeared in some sort of anthology context, and the one book he did write by himself died almost immediately upon his taking it over (his work with co-writers isn't much better).

DiDio does give himself a hell of an asset in writing Batman into the story. This is the only of the back-ups that includes a DCU co-star, but, again, are you going to say no to your boss's boss? So DiDio writes a five-page framing sequence featuring Batman and Catwoman--Batman chases Catwoman into an alley, where he finds Top Cat instead, covering for Catwoman. Batman questions the four-foot tall, anthropomorphic cat, during which time T.C. reveals his secret origin.

DiDio has basically reimagined him as a career criminal who ratted out the rest of his gang, hailing from a world very different from that of the setting of the original cartoons. It is a world of anthropomorphic cats, where Top Cat would be the equivalent of a human, rather than a regular (if talking and clothes-wearing) cat (Rather than human police officer Dibble busting T.C.'s chops, there's a panel where cat police officers bust his gang). He and Benny have journeyed to the DCU via a mad science device, which also makes this unique among the various Hanna-Barbereboot properties in that it is actually set in the DC Universe (Remember, in the lead story, Strange journeys outside the DCU to land in the world of Future Quest). These little changes basically cast T.C. as Howard The Duck.

Phil Winslade draws the feature, and he hasn't really redesigned the character in any appreciable way, other than making him much larger, and somewhat creepier, given that he is rendered so much more realistically than the flat, bright version of your parents (or grandparents) youth. Basically, Top Cat looks like a furry.

It ends, as all of the back-ups do, with the words "To Be Continued in...", which suggests a new round of Hanna-Barbereboot books on the horizon, none of which seem as promising as the ones we've already seen (And all of which, save Scooby Apocalypse, have either been canceled or are in the process of being canceled).

Booster Gold/The Flintstones #1 by writer Mark Russell, artists Rick Leonardi and Scott Hanna and colorist Steve Buccellato

This is the other special in which a DC character without a book of his own crashes into the milieu of one of the extant Hanna-Barbereboot books. Though written by regular Flintstones writer Mark Russell, it is really more of a Booster Gold story. Despite all of the panel time that The Flintstones characters enjoy, it is Booster who is our protagonists, and Fred, Barney and Wilma could easily have been played by generic characters from the distant past. Where the book really shares common ground with the modern, post-modern take on the 20th century's modern Stone Age family is in the tone. Like Russel's Flintsones book, this is social satire in a cartoon package, often quite dark, even shockingly so (Booster plays Weekend At Bernie's with a bisected corpse near the climax) and occasionally preachy.

Booster Gold, in the far-flung future of 2472, is on his way to a date in Gotham City when aliens attack. In order to save the day, Booster Gold researches the alien race on Chronopedia and uses his time machine to jump back to Bedrock 20,000 BC, the time and place of their kind's first appearance on Earth. His sudden arrival out of thin air kills the interplanetary prophet who arrived to share his advanced wisdom with the residents of Bedrock, cutting the poor sap in half...and starting the chain of events that would eventually lead to the invasion 22,500 years or so later (time travel!).

With the help of time travel and some local cave-people, he attempts to save the day, and kinda sorta does, in the process radically altering his present/our future in a way that he's pretty much the only one who can appreciate.

Russell's take on Booster Gold is pretty fun. The character seems like himself, despite appearing inn a narrative that is obviously more comedic in focus than even the Bwa-ha-ha-est of his superhero adventures, and he Russell does with time travel what he's been doing with history and American society in the pages of The Flinstones (I particularly enjoyed Booster's reaching out to other time travelers for help, all of whom seem to have chosen to inadvertently traveled to deadly, disastrous points in history).

Perhaps the scariest thing about this entire story, however? In the year 2472, people will still be dating via Tinder! I guess I should be gladdened by the knowledge that there is no way in hell I'll survive over 450 more years...

This back-up is the The Jetsons, courtesy the Harley Quinn writing team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, with artist Pier Brito. I kind of hated it. It is essentially just an origin story for The Jetsons' robot maid Rosie, which is actually kind of disturbing (Spoiler alert: She is now a robot with the mind of George's mother, and thus Judy and Elroy's grandmother, implanted into it/her). She is the most drastically redesigned member of the cast--she's the creepy alien-looking thing on the cover--having lost her boxy appearance and stereotypical maid drag for a shapelier figure and lighter-colored metal placed in such a way to suggest an apron and such.

The human Jetsons all look more-or-less like realistic versions of themselves, as if Brito just cast actors to play them in a live-action adaptation. Jane wears stretch pants under her dress, and Elroy looks older and dresses less like a little kid, but that's about it.

One thing I found strange about DC's various Hanna-Barbereboot books in general--these as well as the four original ongoings--was that in making "adult" versions of these cartoons (Future Quest being the only one that's really all-ages), none of the artists involved redesigned anyone as particularly sexy. In fact, though generally drawn in more realistic faction, the 21st century reboot versions are generally less sexy, with the ladies all more demurely, conservatively dressed than their 1960s cartoon counterparts. That is especially evident here, as not only were Jane and Judy drawn as particularly attractive (um, for their milieu), they were also relatively scantily-clad for the era of television from which they were born (Same goes for Betty and Wilma, I guess, although I never found Wilma the least bit attractive, even when I was a wee child and cartoon women were the only women I really saw that I wasn't related to; her pupil-less dead eyes and the shape of her head always turned me off, whereas Betty was a stone age fox).

But anyway, rather than a futurisic version of The Flintstones, this is an end-of-life story set in the far-flung future in which we learn George uses his dead mom's brain as a maid. It is to be continued in The Jetsons, we are told.

Green Lantern/Space Ghost #1 by writers James Tynion IV and Christopher Sebela, and artist/colorist Ariel Olivetti

As with Adam Strange/Future Quest, both sides of this particular team-up fit together so naturally it's almost not even remarkable to see them sharing a book, and there's certainly none of the inherent tension of the previous book, or the one we'll discuss next. Green Lantern is a space cop who fights various forms of evil in space. Space Ghost is a space cop who fights various forms of evil in space. Neither of them has anything approaching a personality, so even having them play off one another doesn't really generate much in the way of sparks. Tynion and Sebela's story isn't bad, it's just not terrible interesting.

Both heroes receive a distress signal of sorts from the most distant edges of their universes, and they each rush to investigate. Foes of each are encountered and fought--"Agent Orange" Larfleeze and Zorak/s--and the pair end up on a rather Earth-like planet, where they proceed to duke it out, because why wouldn't they?

This planet is ruled by bad folks who have convinced the populace that there is no life at all beyond their planet, and thus when the spacemen arrive, they need to be eradicated with laser guns and mechs. So more fighting. At one point the heroes trade weapons, and I can't tell you how disappointed I was that when Space Ghost put on the Green Lantern ring he didn't receive a Green Lantern-ized costume like heroes usually do when they try GL's ring on for size. Maybe next time...?*

Ariel Olivetti's art isn't to my taste. His designs are fine, but he uses a lot of computer gimickry, dropping in photo-realistic backgrounds and robots and such that contributes to an all-around look of sterile fakery. A lot of people obviously dig this kind of art, but I like comic book art that looks drawn with pencil and ink on paper. That said, as the artist on the 2005 Space Ghost miniseries with writer Joe Kelley, Olivetti was probably a pretty ideal choice for the comic, if none of the Future Quest guys were available.

The back-up is a Ruff 'n' Reddy feature by Howard Chaykin. The cat and dog characters are obscure enough that I have actually never, ever seen a cartoon featuring them (or, if I did, it was long enough ago that I have no memory of it). I can't really speak then to what degree Chaykin reinvents them, but it's worth pointing out that it reads like a weird Howard Chaykin funny animal comic, in which the pair are professional, old time-y comedians who are down on their luck. The strongest gag, I thought, was the series of other comedians they work with, all of whom have names that lend themselves to teaming with them.

Suicide Squad/Banana Splits #1 by writer Tony Bedard, artists Ben Caldwell and Mark Morales and colorist Jeremy Lawson

This was probably the most out-there of the four books, what with there being the largest gulf in tone between the  source material, and the fact that The Banana Splits was just a really, really weird show (and not even a cartoon, but an off-putting live-action one featuring people in frightening animal costumes...Liz Phair and Material issue's cover song of their theme song from the 1995 MCA anthology album Saturday Morning was pretty awesome, though!).

Writer Tony Bedard imagines the Banana Splits as a down-on-their-luck band of hybrid animal people (for whose existence no explanation is ever given) who are apparently native to the DC Universe. On their way to a gig, a misunderstanding leads to them getting busted by the cops, and they are shipped off to Belle Reve (perhaps because they are animal people? That doesn't get explained either). They don't exactly fit in there, and when Amanda Waller needs some extremely expendable Squaddies to reinforce Harley Quinn, Katana, Killer Croc and Deadshot on their rescue mission, the Splits suit-up and join the fray.

As their opponents are robots, the Splits aren't forced to kill any actual living things during the mayhem. It all leads up to a kind of forced gag, but that particular gag was perhaps the only reason a Banana Splits/Suicide Squad crossover would ever even have been a thing. Other than sheer weirdness, of course.

Caldwell's pencil art, inked by Mark Morales, is fantastic, and among the best art applied to the Suicide Squad in their 5,000 or so appearance since The New 52boot. Dude should really be drawing the regular series, or at least an arc or two of it, as the model for the current Suicide Squad series seems to be to put a different high-profile artist on each consecutive story arc.

His Harley Quinn is just right, capturing the basic look of the movie-inspired redesign with equal parts Animated Series puckishness and Suicide Squad craziness. He basically lands right in the middle of the two most pervasive versions of the character.

He gives Katana a redesign, with a more elaborate, samurai-inspired costume that is an improvement over most of her many costumes over the years, and his Deadshot is a more stripped-down and stylized version of the current costume. In fact, Caldwell's version may be the best of that particular (terrible) Deadshot costume.

The Banana Splits all look incredibly off, even wrong, though. Bingo (the monkey) is the only one who retains the strange person-in-a-furry suit look, given his over-sized head. The rest are simply animal men, and their sizes reflect which animal they are to some degree, rather than all being the same size. I don't know what the best choice for drawing The Banana Splits in a Suicide Squad comic is though, so I can't say Caldwell necessarily did it wrong, but making them realistic animal-men certainly looks and feels wrong to me. Like, even just being able to see their eyes, or Snork being an actual elephant-man instead of the weird, gray, shaggy, Cousin It-looking thing with a trunk and ears seemed un-Banana Split-like to me.

The back-up is a Snagglgepuss story, wait, I'm sorry, it's "The Snagglepuss Chronicles." It's by Mark Russell and Howard Porter's a weird one. Snagglepuss is drawn as a more-or-less realistic felid of some kind, albeit a human-sized one with pink fur, creepy-looking "backwards" hind legs and a longer version of the yellow coat he sported during Laff-A-Lympics. Russell imagines him a quick-witted, controversial playwright of some sort, making his way through what appears to be the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings with a series of bon mots. Outside, he randomly meets Augie Doggie, who similarly looks weirdly realistic, and who says he wants to be a writer. Snagglepuss offers advice that does sound inspiring and, well, true, and he also flashes-back to a tragic event in his past (cameo by Peter Potamus).

I couldn't make heads or tails of this one, to be honest, and whatever joke Russell was trying to tell went over my head.

*After that weird--but surprisingly good!--2005 Space Ghost miniseries, I had spent some time thinking about Space Ghost joining the DC Universe, even if only on a temporary basis, and what that might be like. I assumed he would run into Green Lanterns. I thought it would be cool to see him as a POV character wandering around DC's Earth for a while too, maybe joining the Justice League for a while. I think the current Justice League, which has a pretty boring and incredibly static line-up these days, would really benefit from adding Space Ghost to it.

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